May Day Voices: Strikers in Massachusetts
Al Neal/PW

Note: To maintain their safety, activists spoken to will only be referenced by initials. 

Under cover of darkness, not too long before early morning’s pale olive light broke across the horizon, activists, workers, renters, and all class-conscious individuals nationwide made their last-minute preparations, and ticked of their checklists; a May Day strike was about to take place.

Crisis spurs radical inspiration. And as the world continues to brace against the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, working people—many of whom live paycheck to paycheck—face economic and health uncertainty, especially those deemed as “essential workers.”

There is no reprieve from such realities for them, and this fact is taken full advantage of by the bosses, and corporate elite. In particular, this “essential worker tactic” is being heavily used by the crooked six—Amazon, Walmart, FedEx, Target, Instacart, and Whole Foods, companies who are reaping crisis profits.

Unsafe working conditions, lack of PPE (personal protective equipment), and the very real possibility of death on the job pushed workers to act: walk off the job during lunchtime on International Workers’ Day.

The strike action was simultaneously joined by renters, now unemployed, underemployed, or temporarily furloughed because of the global pandemic, struggling against the greed of landlords big and small.

In western Massachusetts, a small dedicated group of individuals—taking all necessary coronavirus safety measures—assembled atop highway overpass bridges. They carried several cloth banners, zip ties, twine, and the spirit of civil disobedience.

In quick order the banners, with a bit of weight attached to the bottom, flew over the overpass guardrail, were tied down, and left for all morning commuters to see: “Cancel Rent” and “End Sanctions.”

It all took less than 10 minutes, and the group was then off to the next location.

Banner drops are not new. They’ve been used for many years as a form of visual protest.

Today, however, it takes on a new level of impact and importance. With physical distancing requirements still in place, this visual act of solidarity and protest fills in for the crowded sidewalk strike line.

Of course, the western Massachusetts action was not just a call to cancel rent, it also called for the lifting of U.S. sanctions against certain nations, Venezuela, and Cuba for example, during this time of global unrest.

“This was an act of solidarity with the nationwide strike efforts and with working people across the world on International Workers’ Day,” said M.G., a western Massachusetts activist. “As it’s the first of the month, we are also calling on legislators to do what’s right and cancel rent payments during the COVID-19 pandemic. MA took a huge step forward in passing the most comprehensive eviction/foreclosure moratorium in the country. And we need to do more to ensure people are protected once this crisis is over.

When asked about the call to “end sanctions,” M.G. explained that U.S. imperialist sanctions should always be viewed as a form of violence, even more so amid a global pandemic.

“Our legislators must fight to lift the sanctions immediately… This is not the time to engage in political maneuvering. In this act, we send them a clear message: lift the sanctions and save lives, or you have blood on your hands.”

“Why take the Covid-19 risk?” I asked. “What did this action mean for you?”

“I do this because of the need to fight against imperialism fueled by capitalism, but it’s also personal. I’ve lost family members as a direct consequence of U.S. imposed sanctions. One thing this pandemic has taught us, is that we are all one human family, separated by fictitious borders, where goods flow freely across borders but not people,” said M.G.

Al Neal/PW

According to C.D., one of the banners drop crew, the action was intentionally planned as part of the May Day strike.

“It’s essential to tie together demands that impact the working class locally as well as globally,” they said. “As the health, social and economic impact of coronavirus has devastated the majority of people both in the U.S. and across the world, the pandemic has enriched the wealthiest—for us locally it means the growing class of unemployed can’t pay rent, and now faces housing insecurities.

“Housing is a human right, and evictions to prop of the wealth of a small landlord class should never be accepted. The gains made amid the crisis are essential, but we also recognize that we will have to fight for them not to be taken back once the crisis has subsided.”

C.D. continued: “During this crisis, the U.S. has also tightened its grip over countries such as Venezuela and Iran – long under attack – who dare to assert their right for sovereignty and threaten the U.S. grip on global hegemony.”

When asked about what they hope their May Day action would accomplish, they all agreed that it was to “put pressure on our government officials to take swift and immediate action. Local activists have long been pressuring our state officials to take a stand and have been consistently dismissed and ignored by some.

“We want to send the clear message that sanctions are a form of warfare, and our government and our people have a responsibility to stop these murderous policies at home and abroad.”


Al Neal
Al Neal

Award winning journalist Al Neal is PW associate editor for labor and politics. He is also the chief photographer for People's World. He is a member of the Chicago News Guild, Society of Professional Journalists, Professional Photographers of America, National Sports Media Association, and The Ernest Brooks Foundation.